January 30, 2008

Renaldo's spawn

OVER to the maximum of happiness, really!

Simon was right. The song "I AM your brother (We're brothers forever)" of American Idol flunkie Renaldo Lapuz, is now a certifiable hit, judging from the number of videos that are posted on Youtube copying, spoofing, and remixing his song.

As of Jan. 30, there were 1,360 videos posted tagged under entertainment, comedy, music and starring not only our now-famous kababayan, but also people of different nationalities celebrating this infectious song. People actually enjoy it and curses! can't get the song out of their heads. It now has dance remix versions downloadable as an mp3 ringtone as well.

Here's are two interviews of Renaldo by the local FoxNews affiliate in Irving, and a few interesting remakes/versions of his song on Youtube. O da vah...panalo talaga si brother! Mabuhay ka Renaldo! May your tribe increase!

From a music teacher, agreggofsociety, who taught the song to his students…o, me second voice pa sila ha!

From someone called Alina doing a ballad version/cover. Her voice is actually good. Kasawa lang ang face.

And the best dance remix version from Nexxion. Download the ringtone.

Proudly Pinoy.

January 29, 2008

Joey Bermudez retiring from Chinatrust

...but isn't turning his back on banking

WHEN news spread about the impending retirement of Chinatrust Philippines president Joey A. Bermudez, he was besieged by text messages and calls from the media. Some reporters expressed concern and wanted to know if he was sick. Those who’ve covered the banking beat and who’ve become his friends have seen Bermudez shrink in weight, which some of us thought troubling, just in the last couple of years.

“No, no!” protests the 52-year-old banker as we got together for lunch last week, a day after Chinatrust reported to the Philippine Stock Exchange that the board of directors had accepted his retirement, effective April 2. “Everyone in the family is just on a health kick. My wife, my kids, my [second] son is even buffed. When he visits the office all the girls say he’s delicious!” he reports to us in his usual deadpan humor face.

He also corrects the misconception that he’s permanently leaving the banking industry. “I’m just retiring from Chinatrust,” he says, which again brought up questions from us about his stint at the Taiwanese-owned bank, and more inquiries about just exactly why he’s leaving it after seven years of service. Did they give him a hard time? Was there any language problem (snickers all around the table)?

But Bermudez dispels all that between mouthfuls of roast chicken by explaining that, actually, he’s taking a break because of his family. “I’m bringing my kids to Canada this April. They’ve all been vocal about wanting to study abroad kasi,” he says. The kids are Miguel, 20; Angelo, 19; Rafael, 14; Gabriel, 11; and the youngest, a girl, Christina, 10. “From April to June, Ester [his wife] and I will go to Canada, look for schools for them and for a house they can live in. Then we’ll come back, ang mga bata lang maiiwan du’n,” he continues.

For those still not in the know, Canada has one of the best educational systems in the world, and the standards of its universities are comparable with even the most distinguished private institutions in the United States, but at almost half the tuition.

Banking veteran

A subsidiary of Chinatrust Commercial Bank Ltd. of Taiwan, Chinatrust Philippines was initially incorporated as Access Banking Corp. in September 1995. It changed to its present name, Chinatrust (Philippines) Commercial Bank Corp., in January 1996 after the Taiwan bank took full ownership of the bank. In June 1999 its shares were finally listed on the Philippine Stock Exchange.

But when Bermudez took over as president in 2001, everyone we knew went “Chinatrust? Ano ’yon?” No one had heard about the bank, except for those who were in the banking industry.

Bermudez has a long distinguished career, working in various major banks — Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), PCIBank, Solidbank and, lastly, Philippine Savings Bank — and mentored under the hardiest and most prominent bankers of the time, one of whom, Rafael Buenaventura, even went on to become the central bank governor.

But Bermudez, who has never backed down from a good challenge especially when it comes to creating new bank products and strategies, went ahead to take over as president of what many thought as an obscure bank. Talking to him then, his friends asked what the bank’s owners offered him that was so appetizing he just had to leave his cushy job at PSBank. “They’re giving me a car. But since I still have to prove myself, isa lang ang side-view mirror,” he joshed at the time. That side-view-mirror joke has become standard entertainment fare everytime we get together.

Unlike other Chinatrust branches around Asia, the Philippine branch is the only one that has a local as its head, and the only one whose local business is as dominant as its Taiwanese business. In other countries, Chinatrust primarily targets the global Chinese. “The shareholders agreed with me that our full commercial banking franchise would be underutilized if we were to run after the Taiwanese niche alone. We had to offer products for Filipinos, otherwise we won’t be able to sufficiently enlarge our revenues,” he explains.

So from a small institution, Chinatrust’s lending portfolio has grown into respectable volumes, which is no mean feat considering that it is a foreign bank in a highly competitive local industry. Its consumer loan portfolio has risen to over P5 billion from near zero in 2001. Low-cost deposits have more than quadrupled since 2001. “We also built an Internet-powered debit-card business which has grown to 250,000 cards from zero in 2001,” he notes. Chinatrust branches have expanded to 2, from 18 in 2001, and its brand is now as familiar as most major local banks.

So we assume that Bermudez has already earned that other side-view mirror.


Despite his almost maniacal schedule overseeing the bank’s operations and meeting with colleagues from the parent bank, Bermudez managed to find time to finish his thesis to finally graduate with a Master’s Degree in Business Economics from the University of Asia and the Pacific in 2004. He’s also managed trips to the gym, which explains his trimmed-down physique, and occasional swats at the golf ball.

Asked what he’s going to do now, Bermudez admits considering the possibility of going into microfinance lending. Having started his career as an agribanker at BPI, this is no far stretch for Bermudez. Thinking up of ways to help channel more loans to the agricultural sector and to small and medium enterprises — the usually unbankable sectors—was when he was at his happiest. He considers those days “the most enjoyable” in his entire banking career. In fact, when he was still there, PCIBank always garnered the best bank award from the Guarantee Fund for Small and Medium Enterprises (GFSME) because of the institution’s sizeable lending to such firms. But banks need institutions, like GFSME then, or the Small Business Guarantee Fund Corp. now, to guarantee the loans to the smaller ventures and ensure repayment to the banks.

“With microfinance, you can give vent to your creativity because the structure is less rigid, the rules are more flexible, unlike formal bank lending,” Bermudez explains.

He is already dipping his foot in the sector. Through a tieup with the Management Association of the Philippines, of which he is vice president, he is helping former President Corazon Aquino’s Pinoy Me foundation to assist microfinance institutions to securitize their receivables. “This is so they don’t have to depend on banks for funds. They can just go to the capital markets to raise funds by securitizing their assets,” he says.

The idea is to take a group of investors to buy the loan portfolio of a microfinance company so the latter can use the funds to lend to more borrowers. There is no cost to the borrowers as they will still be paying the same interest rate to the microfinance company, which remains as the loan-collecting agent.

Bermudez is also considering to teach at a business school in the meantime. But he stresses he isn’t closing his doors totally on the banking industry where he honed his career. “I will respond to opportunities as they present themselves, giving more weight this time to what my heart desires rather than what appeals to the pockets.”

But what if a bank offers you a car with two side-view mirrors this time? we ask. “Hmmm....I’ll have to think long about that one,” he answers, deadpan again; and on cue, we all burst out laughing.

(My interview and photo of Joey Bermudez was originally published in the BusinessMirror on Jan. 25, 2008)

January 28, 2008

An old reliable

IN this concluding installment of my three-part series on restaurants to visit and revisit in the new year, here's one more nod to an already established dining destination.

VERBENA, Discovery Country Suites, Tagaytay

WHILE the cool breeze Tagaytay is famous for was not felt as we dined in this restaurant almost overlooking the Taal Lake and the volcano (“almost,” because there was a house blocking our view), lunch turned out to be a pleasant surprise for my food buddy and I.

There were new items on the menu created by Colombian chef David Pardo de Ayala. I must say these were just amazing dishes that were really sumptuous and delightful. My favorites were the Pan-Seared Foie Gras (my heart just skipped a beat just writing that), Oyster Fricasse, Herb-Marinated Mushrooms and Organic Arugula, and Australian Lamb Chops. We were just stuffed that I couldn’t eat my dessert anymore.

In all of my dining adventures, I have yet to taste a badly prepared foie gras. I suppose any way it is prepared, whether it just be pan-seared, terrined, sautéed, poached or baked, it will still turn out delicious. The fat in the goose (or duck) liver just makes it so silky, rich at the same time delicate. At Verbena the foie gras (P590) is pan-roasted with pancetta (Italian bacon), prunes and figs served in an intense cognac sauce. Yes, kids, it is a taste of what heaven must be like.

The Oyster Fricasse (P460) is one of those dishes whose ingredients are so common but I would never have thought to prepare together as one dish. The freshly shucked oysters are lightly cooked with homemade spaghettini in a cream sauce, lemongrass and caviar sprinkles. Another winning appetizer.

For the salad we had the Herb-Marinated Mushrooms and Organic Arugula (P250) served with a light honey-garlic vinaigrette and parmesan shavings. The sweet dressing makes a delicate contrast to the peppery arugula leaves, a good way to transition to some heavier entrées.

The grilled Australian lamb chops was prepared in an aromatic Moroccan marinade, with parmesan-roasted tomato and honey-garlic reduction. The meat itself was grilled perfectly, a medium-well and tender to the bite.

An interesting dessert was a Walnut Soup with Blue Cheese. It was bold of chef Pardo de Ayala to create this, but the flavor of the blue cheese just overpowered the soup and the taste of the walnuts. I would have rather appreciated a slice of just the cheese and some grapes to end our delightful meal. Props to the chef though, for trying to shake up the dessert course.

When one runs out of new restaurants to try, there are always the good-old reliables that one can always turn to.

(Published in the Life section of the BusinessMirror, Jan. 25, 2008. Photo copyright Stella Arnaldo, 2007)

January 26, 2008

Weekend reading (UPDATED)

GOOD reads today:

Caroline Kennedy endorses Barack Obama

"I have spent the past five years working in the New York City public schools and have three teenage children of my own. There is a generation coming of age that is hopeful, hard-working, innovative and imaginative. But too many of them are also hopeless, defeated and disengaged. As parents, we have a responsibility to help our children to believe in themselves and in their power to shape their future. Senator Obama is inspiring my children, my parents’ grandchildren, with that sense of possibility." (From NYT, Jan. 27, 2008)

How to prevent the U.S. and the global economy from sliding into recession? Spend, Asia!

"The tremendous rate of savings in East Asia is another reason Asia is in a better position to prevent global recession than anybody else. During the East Asian financial crisis of 1997, some currencies weakened dangerously. At the time, national governments lacked enough reserve foreign currency to counterbalance this devaluation. The lesson that East Asia took away from this experience was to maintain large enough reserves to prevent drastic currency fluctuations. As a result, Asian governments now accumulate foreign currency for reserve purposes at a rate far in excess of any other region." (From the Asian Sentinel, Jan. 25, 2008.)

Telling her own story, Michelle Obama finds her voice too

"You think of my parents who didn't go to college, who sent not one but two of us to Princeton, my brother and I," she told the 200 or so students that came to hear her speak. "And the one thing that is clear to me as I've traveled the country is the story of my father is the story of America, I don't care what color what folks are, I don't care if they grew up on a farm or in the inner city." (From TIME online, Jan. 24, 2008)

French Trader Is Remembered as Mr. Average

"André Tiran, the dean of the faculty at the University of Lyon, theorized that Mr. Kerviel’s training in risk control management might have given him some critical advantages in any financial scheming.

'It’s a little bit like becoming a thief with training in locksmithing,' Mr. Tiran said. 'If you’re good at being a locksmith, then to steal is easier.' " (From the NYT, Jan. 26, 2008)

Dana's 'small' voice

SO Dana Batnag of Jiji Press has been tagged as the journalist who helped Marine Capt. Nicanor Faeldon escape during the Manila Pen coup try. It was alleged that she did this by giving him a press ID. Sweet.

I've seen the photos, I've seen the RPN 9 video clip, they don't show anything except Dana talking (or perhaps interviewing) Faeldon. Last time I checked, there's no law against that.

Taken to task for its seriously inadequate evidence to prove its claim, the PNP now says that there are media people who are willing to corroborate this. Of course, the punchline is, and it is really a joke for most of us in the industry, is these so-called "corroborators" aren't willing to sign any affidavits backing up the claim. Hay naku!

The problem with the PNP is that it has a bunch of small minds and incompetent "operators." They're so inept at spinning stories as if they've trained under the entertainment industry's worst scriptwriters, writing unbelievable plots with poor continuity.

I knew Dana when she was covering the agriculture beat back in the late '80s (or was it early 90s? senior moment attack!). She was writing for the Manila Chronicle then. We were not really close friends so I can't testify to her character. But unlike the PNP, she is a competent journalist, otherwise, Jiji Press wouldn't have hired her. And what journalist worth his spit would put his career and reputation on the line for an outlaw marine officer?

Even if someone says, well, Faeldon may have bribed her. But with what? Is Faeldon even rich enough to give a sizeable sum just to have a journalist help him escape? And from what I know of wire services, they do pay their reporters handsomely. Rightly so, Dana dared the PNP to file a case against her.

Btw, this is the same PNP that continues to insist that methane gas is what caused the Glorietta 2 explosion. So now you understand why a number of people think the Dana Batnag yarn is a load of crap.

(Singer/songwriter Roger Whittaker and Dana Batnag at the Radio City Music Hall. Photo from www.rogerwhittaker.de)

Oh and unless I'm mistaken, I know that Dana is the composer of that famous song, "I am but a small voice," popularized by Lea Salonga. Written when Dana was just 13 years old, it was actually a poem originally in Filipino ("Ako'y munting tinig, me munting pangarap...") she submitted to a UNESCO song-writing contest in 1980, and which legendary British singer/songwriter Roger Whittaker ("Don't know much about history, don't much about biology..."), later re-wrote in English and set to music.

Dana was flown to New York and introduced to the audience in Whittaker's concert at Radio City Music Hall. Proceeds from the sale of that song, which was released as a single, went to UNESCO's education fund for handicapped children.

To this day, the song is sung by millions of kindergarten kids all over the world.

O da vah, sikat sya talaga!

How to be an annoying publicist

Something Like Life
Jan. 25, 2008

FOR those of us in the journalism profession, we cannot help but deal with publicists, media-relations officers, public-relations practitioners and the like.

While, theoretically, media practitioners are not supposed to be “friendly” with PR practitioners, in practice that isn’t the case. There is a symbiotic relationship that often exists between these two groups. Both deal in information and its dissemination, and rely on each other to do their jobs.

According to the late publicist and newscaster Tony Zorrilla, whom I had the good fortune of working for in the past, public (or media) relations used to be the purview of lawyers. As their job description often calls for it, lawyers would defend their clients by explaining to the public (or media) the nuances of the issue at hand, and try to portray their clients in a more positive light, especially in times of crisis.

These days, there are publicists who used to be in advertising, former journalists, marketing or salespeople who do double duty dealing with the media, some are event planners, and I know even one who used to be a dentist! Which is not a bad thing actually, as long as they know their job and serve their clients well.

Business has become very competitive that executives are always looking for strategies to make their products and ideas known. Decades ago, they would rely on marketing and advertising. But these have just become too expensive for some companies that they now prefer the more inexpensive but widely placed press releases in media. These press releases may not be as effective as TV ads to sell a product, but to some companies, hiring a publicist will give them more bang for their buck.

Because for as low as P50,000 a month, a company can hire a PR practitioner to write up a press release extolling the virtues of its products/brands with the hope that the press release is picked up in at least five newspapers. For this same amount, a PR practitioner can also put an event together, invite his media contacts to attend, and have a ready audience for his client’s product presentation.

When a company is in crisis, however, the tab goes up. Situations like a bomb blowing up in a shopping mall, for example, or a plane crashing killing all its passengers, warrant an even higher level of PR expertise. Information has to be gathered and collated from every source possible, whittled down to the most essential, and conveyed to the media and public in the most honest and positive manner possible to ensure that the company remains respectable despite the gravity of the disaster. For such a level of expertise, I know publicists who charge at least P500,000 to handle the crisis for just a couple of months.

So as you can see, public relations has actually become a very profitable profession.

It’s no wonder that every Tom, Dick or Hannah who believes he or she can write one grammatically correct press release, and knows at least one editor or reporter in mainstream media, wants to get a piece of the action.

As one who has been in journalism for close to 20 years, give or take the few years I joined the other side, it has become rather annoying to deal with a newer crop of PR practitioners and media-relations officers. (Okay, to be fair, there are a few veteran PR practitioners who can also be irritating as hell. Like there's this one woman who is notorious for texting editors, wherever she is in the world, and giving them updates every five minutes of her activities there. "I'm walking by the River Seine, enjoying the sunshine, blah, blah, blah." Poor woman doesn't realize she's the laughingstock of the industry.)

First of all, these newbies don’t even bother to spell your name right. I have, at one time or another, received invitations that named me Estela, Estelle, Estella but never S-T-E-L-L-A. In the same manner, I worked with a managing editor before whose first name sounded like a woman’s, so all the press releases sent to him were addressed as Miss or Mrs. (He used his mother’s maiden name as well, so perhaps the PRs aren’t wholly to blame.)

Still, in professions that deal with information such as PR and journalism, accuracy is of utmost concern. So I assume it is just plain laziness on the part of these young PR practitioners that they do not bother to check the actual spelling of a journalist’s name. What’s a few minutes in a day to go through the newspaper or run through the staffbox, huh?

Then there are the publicists who feel too familiar with journalists that they have the gall to text you at midnight or call you even on a Sunday! They just casually assume that you’re still awake even at a late hour (because, hey, all media people are drunken louts who sleep at 5 am and wake up at 12 noon!), or are in the office every single day. Again, this is just plain laziness on the part of these publicists. One media-relations girl I didn’t even know from Eve told me that she assumed I’d be in the office on a Sunday. Now if she actually bothered to do her research, this girl would know that I don’t go to the BusinessMirror office at all, except when I’m off to pester Loida. (Who’s Loida? That’s still your job to find out.)

One hotel PR girl, for example, has this habit of texting reporters at 10 pm just to follow up on her invites, or, like her latest stunt, ask for her contacts’ e-mail addresses and contact numbers at midnight. Gads, ang kapal! (This same girl even emailed about five different invites to the same event – teaser ad style – in a span of one week! Ang kulit ba?!)

Then there are those who constantly needle editors or reporters to come out with their press releases or beg you to come to their events. In my long years in the journalism profession, I’ve noticed that the real PR experts will just keep sending out their press releases. They wouldn’t follow up these with you at all. They trust editors enough to find the space for them when available, because they know editors are inundated with tons of releases every day. And if the media can’t come to their event, they will just make sure the editors or reporters are sent whatever press kit was handed out that day.

Those who I consider “small time,” not because of how much they charge but because of their irritating behavior, will keep calling you, even in the middle of the paper’s deadline hours, to ask you if you got their press release—and, believe it or not, when it would come out. And they will also beg 30 times via text messages or phone calls for you to attend their event.

The real PR experts will often take time to build a friendship with the media. As I said, while journalists and publicists are not supposed to have a cozy relationship, this happens a lot of times. Sometimes you just can’t help it. There are really nice, authentic and sincere publicists out there who are worthy to be called “friends.” (Of course, when the journalist leaves her profession, she will know just how many of these so-called friends will actually stick around.)

But some PR practitioners and journalists I know have all but gotten married to one another. And then there are a few publicists who may have been treated poorly by some editors in the past, but were right beside the latter especially during dire medical circumstances. What can you say about a publicist who will hold an editor’s hand while the latter undergoes chemotherapy?

Journalists are often perceived as unrealistically demanding, especially when it comes to dealing with publicists. For sure, there are some media practitioners who are abusive. We’re not saints. But for most of us, I think we actually demand very little of PR practitioners. We don’t even expect them anymore to send us perfectly written press releases, or creatively captioned photo releases, although it would help us immensely if they do. We just ask that you respect us enough to spell our names correctly, not bother us during deadline, stop pestering us by following up on your press releases, not inundate our e-mail inboxes with media advisories that should have been turned into print ads instead.

And when we say “no,” we mean NO.

January 24, 2008

GMA to survive Year of the Earth Rat

GOOD GRIEF! this is what Joseph Chau, feng shui (geomancer) consultant of the Mandarin Oriental answered me when I asked him if the presidentita would still remain in power this year. According to him, this is because the main gate of the Malacañang Palace faces the Southeast, which is the luckiest direction in the Year of the Earth Rat. "So if Malacañang is lucky, the master is lucky too," he said. Do I hear groaning out there? Ah well...

He did say though that there was a sickness star hovering above the Northwest where the Palace is located, so the presidentita should be careful about her health. Well we've seen her in and out of St. Luke's hospital quite a number of times last year, and I'm not counting her husband's near-death experience. There have been quite a number of rumors just what disease has been plaguing the scary resident by the Pasig River, especially since her primary care physician is a liver specialist.

(Joseph Chau, master geomancer and resident feng shui consultant of the Mandarin Oriental Manila, gives the press a lowdown on what's in store for us in the Year of the Earth Rat.)

Chau added that because of Malacañang's luck, he doesn't see any "major problems" for its chief resident this year. And he adds that the Philippines is lucky as well and has been on this prosperity path since 2004, which will last until 2009! But why don't we feel it Mr. Chau? It seems only the presidentita is lucky! Hay naku!

Anyhoo, the little one's critics may be comforted by the fact that Chau was the geomancer that predicted Joseph Estrada would remain in power. In fairview, the master geomancer did not have Erap's exact birthdate and birth time which would have given him a more accurate reading of the then Palace resident's (mis)fortune. In the same manner, this year's prediction for GMA is just based on a general reading of Malacañang after Chau looked at maps, and not of the presidentita herself.

* * * *

Other points raised by Chau in the brief chat I and a couple of other reporters had with him yesterday:

Lucky zodiac signs are : the ox, tiger, dragon, monkey, and dog. Those who were born in the year of the Rat, Horse, Rabbit, Rooster, and the Goat will have a tough year.

Good investment areas (stock market and business in general) : mining, entertainment (TV and movies), real estate, transportation, and logistics. He advises newspaper publishers/editors to play up entertainment stories on their front pages to ensure profitability.

• Businesses that will find the new year to be more challenging are garments, boutiques, and book stores. "There are just more competitors for them so they should work harder."

Young men, especially those below the age of 50 should begin businesses in the Year of the Earth Rat.

• While he didn't directly answer my question of whether Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton would win the U.S. presidential elections in November, he said it will be a "cultural" decision for Americans. I take this to mean that Americans will have an easier time voting a white woman into office than a African-American male. (Btw, I noticed in the recent news stories by ANC, there were actually more Fil-Ams supporting Hillary than Obama. This is not a surprise as Pinoys have always identified themselves with WASPs, desperate to be like them especially in the color of their skin, that the gluthatione bottles are just flying off those drugstore shelves. Besides most Fil-Ams supported Bill Clinton as well when he first ran for office, even when he was considered a virtual newbie in the beltway.)

• The November elections would also spell relief for the U.S. and it's economy will pick up, helping strenghthen the greenback as well. That should be welcome news to a lot of our exporters and OFWs cringing at every day's uptick in the peso's value.

For a summary of Chau's predictions, click here

January 22, 2008

To a Yummier New Year

In this second installment of my three-part series on restaurants to visit and revisit in the new year, I dish on even more yummy things.

barLO Resto Lounge, Two Seasons Beach Resort, Station 1, Boracay Island, Aklan

barLO offers an exciting blend of European and Asian flavors created by the father-and-son team of Gene and Gino Gonzalez. Frankly speaking, I didn’t have high hopes about the cuisine, considering that the last time I ate at Café Ysabel in San Juan, I came away very disappointed with what I had eaten. (True, this was many years ago, but it was so bad I vowed never to set foot in the place again.)

My sad experience with Café Ysabel, however, was completely blown away when I got a taste of some of the items on barLO’s menu. The Crispy Pork with Char Siu Rice alone is to die for. While I usually abhor eating pork dishes when I’m on a beach vacation, this dish was simply too delectable to resist. Crispy and crunchy, with the flavor of the pork fat just kicked up a notch when dipped in the raspberry sauce on the side. No greasy taste at all...just nice and neat.

Another fabulous find was the Chef’s Angus Beef Burger, which was supertender and juicy and cooked just right. Consider this the king of all Boracay burgers.

For dessert, you can’t go wrong with the Molten Chocolate Cake dusted with some caster sugar, and served with pine-vanilla ice cream. The cake isn’t too sweet and the ice cream and raspberry compote just gives the dish that extra kick to make this chocolate dessert totally exciting.

And I am happy to note that barLo is so the only restaurant this side of Boracay which serves crispy fried danggit for breakfast. It serves comfort food with a twist. And who can go wrong with that?

CYMA, TriNoma, Quezon City

WHILE Cyma has been around for awhile, this is Chef Robbie Goco’s first outlet in Quezon City. Cyma’s fans are flocking to this new location and packing it in especially during the evenings and weekends. (We’re told that many of the TriNoma patrons have been regular diners at the restaurant’s Shangri-La Mall outlet like myself.)

But we also noticed new diners, mostly Filipino-Chinese families, trying to get a feel of the Greek selections and, sadly, they sometimes stick to the familiar, like pasta, pizza and osso buco — basically Italian fare — which are also available on the menu.

We hope they try our favorites, such as the Roka Salata (P245 for the solo size but still enough to share with two other people), a typical Greek salad with a delectable blend of arugula, Romaine lettuce, candied walnuts, sun-dried tomatoes, shaved Parmesan cheese, kalamata olives tossed in lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil. Sweet. Crunchy. Refreshing.

There’s also the really hefty Moussaka (P235), made from Japanese eggplant. Truthfully, I don’t like eggplants because of its mushy taste, but I make an exception when eating moussaka — Greece’s national dish — and just think of it as lasagna (which I love!) with layers of ground beef, tomato sauce and loads of mozzarella cheese with béchamel sauce (minus the noodles, of course).

(Sweet but healthy Roka salata. Photo from Our Awesome Planet)

The lamb gyros (no snickering about Greek shepherd boys now) is also a must-try. It is marinated lamb sliced into bite-sized pieces, with tomatoes, red onion, tzatziki and wrapped in a pita bread. Tzatziki is a classic Greek dip made of cucumber, garlic and yogurt which gives the lamb gyros a light cool taste and feeling despite the sizable amount of meat. Only P150 and filling enough for a quick lunch.

“Always leave room for dessert,” is my favorite motto. What’s a meal without a sweet treat? You should not miss the Skolatina, the most evil! dessert ever created on this good earth! It’s that sinfully good! It is a chocolate cake that just oozes with warm chocolate syrup when you spoon into it, and which you have to eat with the warm chestnut syrup and vanilla ice cream served on the side. What a pleasure it is to savor that warm chocolatey goodness and chilled creamy vanilla ice cream playing on your taste buds. It is like the best orgasm you’ve experienced in your entire life! Mmmm....

A piece of advice, though: if you are going to order the Skolatina, do so as soon as you sit down and order your appetizers and main entrées, as it takes about 30 minutes to bake. Also, for the good of your hips and blood sugar, do share it with someone. Unfortunately, Cyma doesn’t serve coffee, which would really make the perfect ending to the dining pleasures offered in this place.

We conclude this delectable journey next week....

January 20, 2008

Good reads (and another thing Pinoys should be proud of)

From The Economic Consequences of Mr. Bush by Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank and Nobel Prize laureat:

"Up to now, the conventional wisdom has been that Herbert Hoover, whose policies aggravated the Great Depression, is the odds-on claimant for the mantle “worst president” when it comes to stewardship of the American economy. Once Franklin Roosevelt assumed office and reversed Hoover’s policies, the country began to recover. The economic effects of Bush’s presidency are more insidious than those of Hoover, harder to reverse, and likely to be longer-lasting. There is no threat of America’s being displaced from its position as the world’s richest economy. But our grandchildren will still be living with, and struggling with, the economic consequences of Mr. Bush....

"Whoever moves into the White House in January 2009 will face an unenviable set of economic circumstances. Extricating the country from Iraq will be the bloodier task, but putting America’s economic house in order will be wrenching and take years."

Read on at Vanity Fair.

Also, from the Asian Sentinel, a story on vigilantism, female style:

"A rambunctious and fearless posse recognizable by their pink-colored saris, the Pink Gang is the nemesis of violent husbands and inept government officials. Having personally suffered abuse, members of the vigilante club thrash abusive men, wife beaters and rapists, confront and shame wrongdoers and storm local police stations to accost lackadaisical cops."

Watch out men. We're on to you.

* * * *

Proudly Pinoy again

The Manila Standard Today reports that Lagen and Miniloc islands' resorts have been included in Travel + Leisure's 20 Favorite Green Hotels in its January issue. Actually, the issue was November 2007. Anyway, here is the relevant passage, as quoted by MST on Jan. 19:

“Surrounded by 123,000 acres of protected forests, jagged limestone cliffs, and hidden lagoons, travelers to sister resorts El Nido Lagen Island and El Nido Miniloc Island can take their pick of daily activities: bird-watching, kayaking, rock climbing, or simply watching fish swim below one of the guest cottages-on-stilts, which are set above the crystalline ocean.”

The El Nido resorts were actually ranked number eight out of 20 resorts wordwide, coming after well-established and major establishments in the Maldives , the Swiss Alps, and Bahamas. Just goes to show the Philippines still has something to be proud about.

Searching for Bobby Fischer

DO you remember this film? It was a small movie released in 1993 and starred only two famous actors Joe Mantegna and Ben Kingsley. But it sure packed a wallop.

Based on a real life story, the film was about child chess prodigy Joshua Waitzkin and how his coach, played by Kingsley, tried to teach him the aggressive moves of grandmaster Bobby Fischer. It was a very engaging film, especially if you're watching the chess games, and despite Kingsley's prodding, Joshua remains a very polite and respectable chess player. This was unlike Fischer of course, whose games had always been marred by his tantrums and demands.

I've always found chess a very interesting game. I used to play it as a child but quickly outgrew it. I couldn't take all that thinking! It's true, it is a game for brilliant minds, and sad to say, I'm not one of them...haha! On the other hand, it's good I stopped playing the game. Baka mabuang pa ako like Bobby Fischer, grabeh! You know what they say, there's a very thin line between genius and insanity.

The entire world always thought Fischer was a recluse, but in fact, he had been travelling regularly to the Philippines, because his best friend was Filipino grandmaster Eugene Torre. I remember that when the terrorists attacked New York on Sept. 11, 2001, not too long after, Fischer went on radio using a Baguio broadcasting station to air his grievances against the United States. We had tried to get a copy of the transcript of that broadcast but as I recall, we were unsuccessful in doing so.

The media generally dubbed Fischer as a weirdo, and although he was a Jew, he was always pilloring the religious/ethnic group, making all sorts of inappropriate anti-Semitic comments.

Anyway, as it turns out, Fischer fathered a child while he was staying in Baguio City, according to the Phil. Daily Inquirer. He even played tennis at the Baguio Country Club. His girlfriend supposedly now lives in Davao City but has maintained close ties with the chess master. Fischer died on Jan. 17 from liver failure, in Iceland.

The New York Times also came out with a rather unkind analysis of Fischer, but hey, even in death, he really could rouse up all these emotions toward him. That's how much his genius (or yes, craziness) has impacted on the world.

If you can still find a DVD copy of Searching for Bobby Fischer, buy it. It's a really entertaining film. This is one of the best true-to-life movies ever made.

January 19, 2008

From heart to art (or creating beauty from anxiety)

Something Like Life
Jan. 18, 2008

WHEN faced with insurmountable odds or depressing problems, there are many who just want to roll up in a ball, hide away, and hope they won’t have to wake up to another difficult day.

Then there are those, like my Tita Mila (Arnaldo), who take their burdens and use them to produce beautiful works of art and fabulous decorative products.

But I’m pushing ahead of the story, so let me backtrack a bit.

(Besides the touch of beauty and elegance they lend to the dinner table, Vincie’s Collection of unique tableware has a very human and very heartwarming backstory.)

You see on January 8, 1994, Tita Mila’s daughter Judy, my second cousin, was diagnosed with leukemia. She was 30 years old then and at the prime of her life. It was a shock to us all as no one in our family, the Arnaldos, ever had the disease. Judy was working then and just had a simple medical check-up because she felt tired all the time.

It was a most difficult time for my aunt. She is close to my mother and I understood that my aunt was trying to raise funds for their travel to the US where Judy was to undergo a bone marrow transplant.

At the same time that she was worrying about Judy, my aunt was also taking care of her husband, my uncle Jesse, who was then battling with lung cancer. While his illness had been in remission, after 15 years the cancer was back leaving him weak and physically immobile.

In the US, Judy was given a good prognosis for her impending operation. After all, these days bone marrow transplants are almost performed as regularly as heart transplants. “The doctors assured me that she was strong enough and would easily recover from the operation,” my aunt tells me. But as fate would have it, my cousin went into a coma and her doctors gave her a 10-percent chance of survival.

In times of crisis, almost all of us turn to the Lord for help. When we undergo the most difficult of times in our lives, almost all our beliefs about how the world works and the systems of religion and spirituality collapse under the realities we face.

Tita Mila needed to know that God was still up there looking out for her daughter. She joined a Bible-study group where she met Vincie Bavario, an American lady, who taught her how to glue fabric on to glass plates. It was the perfect outlet for my aunt to release her stress and doubts, as she waited for Judy to come out of her coma. With an emotional support group around her, and a hobby she could engage in, she was able to keep strong. “The craft became my therapy. It saved my sanity. God gave me something to keep busy with,” Tita Mila recalls.

I remember that year, 1996, most fervently. I would make impassioned deals with God, asking him to heal my cousin in exchange for my unwavering devotion. I’m sure everyone in the family did the same. It was especially heart-wrenching for me then because I practically grew up with Judy, as she was only a couple of years older than me. On weekends I would spend time with her and her brothers John and Jay, swimming in their pool in their old family compound along Baler Street in Quezon City. We went to each other’s birthday parties until we were too old to have them.

(Colorful fabric-on-glass coasters)

After two months of lying in bed, asleep and stuck with all sorts of needles, fed intravenously with food, water and medicines, one day Judy just opened her eyes. It was the miracle everyone had been praying for.

Judy’s doctors had virtually given up on her for good but her will to live perhaps won out. Tita Mila never faltered in her belief that God would hear her prayers. Judy coming out of the coma was proof that He had bigger plans for the family.

When Tita Mila and Judy came home in 1996, my aunt brought home her newfound craft and decided to put up a business called Vincie’s Collection Inc. “in grateful testimony to God’s love and presence in our lives.” Her designs were a hit. Her collection of dinner sets, glasses, coasters, pitchers, trays and multipurpose tableware were sold out in Rustan’s, The Landmark, Tesoro’s and boutique shops. She was able to amass a loyal following among Metro society’s luminaries and artistes such as the Tantocos; Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay’s spouse Elenita; Malou Rodriguez; Lydia Paredes, the wife of the Apo Hiking Society’s Jim Paredes; and the late Inday Badiday.

The business was going so strong that Tita Mila had to hire a lot of workers just to fulfill all her orders. What started out as a garage business with only three people became a full-blown enterprise with a 24-member staff and a 300-sq-m factory. Christmases were particularly crazy with the seemingly nonstop demand from individual customers and the shops she supplied to. “We painstakingly labor on every product. Mixing fabric on glass is labor-intensive and hand-crafted,” she explains.

When she returned to the US in 1998, it was Tita Mila’s turn to teach Vincie, her mentor, the process by which she was able to perfect and smoothen the products she now produces. “Vincie is very proud and thrilled. Nobody in the world does this, you know?” my aunt declares with pride.

Tita Mila only uses imported fabric and glassware made by Libbey’s, Duralex and Arcoroc. She also uses a special glue to stick the fabric to the décor, such that the fabric backing actually makes the item 90-percent unbreakable. The dinner plates are also microwaveable for less than five minutes.

(Judy, Tita Mila, and a grandson.)

Fate, of course, has a certain way of shaking up our lives. In 2002 my uncle Jesse passed away after a long bout with cancer. Lost and heartbroken, Tita Mila’s creativity and desire to design waned. She closed shop and stopped taking orders to tend to her grief and personal issues.

Parang I lost interest in life. So the artist in me also went. I was depressed for about six months. I went to the US, to Alaska, but it didn’t help...I kept crying all the way there. I felt so alone because my husband and I had developed a co-dependent relationship. I was just so used taking care of him. So I felt lost after he was gone.”

When she came home, Tita Mila decided to enroll in piano class. “Music became therapy for me. It helped heal me.” Then she took all sorts of workshops about communing with the universe, creative writing, etc. “I knew I had to rely on myself to make me happy. I couldn’t rely on my own children because they have their own lives. No one can heal me except myself.”

Today, armed with a newfound zest to create and give joy to others, Tita Mila, with the help of Judy, is at it again, making fabulous fabric-on-glass tableware. “I just kept on praying to the Blessed Sacrament. Then I woke up one morning and I just thought of starting the Vincie’s Collection again. I went to my glass supplier, contacted my people. Then I went to Rustan’s to ask if they were still interested to buy from me again—and they were!”

Each item is individually hand-crafted by skilled workers which gives its distinct and customized look. The slight touches of imperfection make these hand-crafted products precious and unique. The exceptional and stylish products under Vincie’s Collection are currently sold at Rustan’s and Shopwise.

§ If you wish to delight someone with these dazzling and collectible items, or simply brighten up your home, write Mila Arnaldo/Vincie’s Collection at vinciecoll@yahoo.com.ph or call 425-1318, (0921) 472-7873.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror.)

January 18, 2008

Proud to be Pinoy!

IN case you guys missed American Idol last night, here's a clip showing the hilarious Pinoy Renaldo Lapuz from Nevada auditioning/showing off for Simon and the gang. In fairview, nakakatawa talaga sya. Makapal, pero nakakatawa. I hope he gets to cut a record deal from this ala William Hung.

Altogether now..."You are my brother, my best friend forever..."

ON another front, I'm really glad that the other Philippine team at Amazing Race Asia 2 was eliminated. Week after week, it just showed the Filipina at her worst. I mean how loud can a woman be?

(Don't let these happy faces fool you. There's something sinister lurking beneath this woman's smile.)

This Pinay, Terry, just shot off her mouth like a common fishwife. She was just freaking annoying! And nakakahiya! I'm sure a lot of men also got shook up at how she would just scream invectives and belittle her husband, Henry, a retired U.S. Navy senior petty officer. Nakaka-awa talaga ang lalaki. He finally broke down in tears in one episode because of utter humiliation and self-pity. Henry gave new meaning to the term ander-d'saya! What a battered husband! Afraid.

In the episodes after Henry's breakdown, Terry seemed more cordial, less hysterical. Did someone slip valium or lithium in her food? She was even close to cheerful and laughing in the last episode. Too late for this personality makeover. She and her husband were eliminated. Good luck to Henry.

(Marc and Rovilson...still leading the race.)

I have my bets that Marc Nelson and Rovilson Fernandez won the race. (I went over to Rovilson's home publication and no one knew anything. Wow and here I thought no one could keep a secret in Manila.) Although not a Pinoy, Marc has performed extremely well as a member of the Philippine team. I just wish he would take off his T-shirt more often hehe.

And Rovilson just cracks me up. His humor is possibly the reason why he and Marc have yet to wring each other's necks unlike the other teams which had shown signs of breaking apart. Moral of the story, don't take yourselves too seriously.

(Hottie Allan Wu is at it again, hosting for Amazing Race Asia 2.)

Oh, and host Allan Wu is still super hot! I'd embarass myself and join the contest just to get a whiff of him. Mmmm...

January 15, 2008

Restaurants to visit, revisit in the New Year

Jan. 11, 2008

First of three parts

THE new year is a good a time as any to sample the new restaurants in the market and revisit a couple of established ones for their new offerings.

Some of these restaurants are outside Metro Manila, such as Verbena in Tagaytay, as well as Al Andaluz and barLo on Boracay Island, Aklan, while two are in a new thriving mall in Quezon City. What they have in common are chefs or professional cooks who like to take chances in creating fabulous new dishes, or are just trying to break out of the usual mold of what a fine-dining chef and his restaurant are supposed to be.

MADISON GRILL, TriNoma, Quezon City

AFTER impressing diners with his Nori Crusted Black Cod with Soy Yuzu Glazed Sauce, one of his signature dishes at M Café, then a New York-style menu at Chelsea’s in Serendra, Chef Sau del Rosario is now at the helm of—my gosh!—a steak restaurant. And in Quezon City to boot!

“People living in Quezon City need a good restaurant. [TriNoma] is a good site as it’s a catchbasin for all sorts. So on my menu I have dishes that are affordable, such as the P450-Madison petit tender [275-gm certified Angus beef],” Del Rosario says in a recent interview with the BusinessMirror.

Just opened last November 21, Madison Grill is not your usual steak house with a log-cabin look. The interiors are pleasant, with walls painted in a pale yellow, and tables and chairs in dark chocolate brown. Cylindrical lamps hang across the center of main dining area, giving off an inviting glow to diners. It’s definitely a place where one can bring a date, or the entire family.

In the middle of the kitchen with see-through glass windows is a wood-fire oven to bake thin-crust pizzas to a crisp. Right in front of it is a long table laden with all the ingredients possible you can choose for your pizza. Your best bet is the five cheese, arugula, granny apple shreds and walnuts pizza, or the Lucban longganisa, salted egg and quesong puti pizza. You may also create your own from the available toppings.

The prepared pizza selections are reasonably priced (P295 to P360) for a 10-inch size, but for P420, you can choose two toppings, vegetables and mozzarella cheese; and P595 for four toppings, plus the veggies and cheese. The pizzas also come in a 16-inch size.

While there are other selections available on the menu (pasta and house signature dishes), I would go to Madison Grill primarily for the salads, steaks and desserts. The crab Caesar salad with baby romaine hearts, bacon and boiled egg is just divine, with the dressing just enough to tie all the flavors of the different ingredients. It doesn’t overwhelm, unlike commercial Caesar salads where the dressing just suffocates the vegetables.

My food buddies and I were served an American-style Kobe rib-eye (P2,180 for 275 gm), which was cooked medium-well and just deliciously tender to the core. The fat was quite adequate to give the meat some heart-stopping goodness. I enjoyed it, considering I’m not really a steak eater. Other steaks offered include Australian and US Wagyu cuts, pork ribs and kurobota pork belly, and certified Angus beef choices. Some of the cuts are available in 400 gm and 800 gm (US Wagyu black tenderloin, P9,280). All grilled items are served with a choice of starch (potatoes or rice), vegetable sidings and sauce.

For dessert, I raved quite a bit over the strawberry trifle, amaretto crumble and mascarpone (P280). The fresh strawberries just lent it a burst of color and tartness to balance the overall sweetness of the creamy dessert.

AL ANDALUZ, Fairways and Boracay Golf Resort and Country Club,Boracay Island, Aklan

IF you’ve enjoyed the Filipino-Spanish cuisine at Dos Mestizos in this beach playground, you will likely relish the Spanish-Moroccan offerings at Al Andaluz.

Also owned by professional cook Binggoy Remedios, Al Andaluz serves interesting Mediterranean fare with a touch of spice and some color in a delightful setting.

The walls are washed in beige, with the deep brown shade of the wooden furniture giving the interiors a stark but pleasing contrast. The walls are accented by large framed portrait prints and decorative ceramic plates, which Binggoy purchased during a recent trip to Andalusia in the southern tip of Spain. These Spanish ceramic tiles best represent the fusion of flavors in Al Andaluz’s dishes, as the plate designs show the remarkable influence of Arab culture on Spanish products.

Binggoy’s young nephew Andre Malarky whipped up a few dishes exemplifying Spanish-Moroccan cuisine and I came away with a newfound respect for it. The cuisine makes use of a lot of seafood, Morocco being bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. So the dishes are quite light but titillating from the gamut of spices used.

For appetizers, my gang of foodies were served a delightful tapas of peppery Gambas Al Pil Pil (sizzling chili shrimp) sans the sizzle, and tender Beef Salpicao served with a long curly string of potato.

For the main course, we had a slice of Charmoula Fish. The charmoula is a Moroccan sauce or marinade made of lemon, garlic, spiced with some cumin and cilantro. Andre also added some paprika, parsley and a touch of tomato to the marinade for extra kick. The fish, a lapu-lapu, was served on a bed of couscous, with dates and nuts. It was flaky and flavorful with the couscous blend quite splendid.

Langostinos Al Ajillo (marinated tiger prawns in garlic) with pesto couscous

Also on the plate was Langostinos Al Ajillo (marinated tiger prawns in garlic) with pesto couscous, which turned out to be my favorite. The prawns was just succulent with the couscous providing a good complement with its intense basil garlic flavor.

Under the watchful eye of his uncle, Andre—who grew up in Canada and only moved back to the Philippines two years ago—has been able to please the discriminating palates of his guests in Boracay. He grew up in a family that loves to cook, and was heavily influenced by his mother whom he used to watch often in the kitchen. “While living in Toronto, I was exposed to many different people and cultures. I have been working in kitchens since my co-op program in high school, and have learned under great chefs since I was 17. Their influence has really helped me along my way.”

Encouraged by his mom, Andre enrolled and completed a culinary management course at George Brown College and earned a diploma from the George Brown Chef School, whose graduates include the top chefs of Canada like Mark McEwan, Jamie Kennedy, Chris Boland and Bonnie Stern.

More delicious entries in the BusinessMirror, this Friday, Jan. 18, 2007.

January 12, 2008

The story(ies) behind Auntie Anne's Pretzels

(Twist and love: Anne Beiler and her husband, Jonas, shown in their Gap, Pennsylvania, home, made millions with the Auntie Anne’s Pretzels chain. Anne’s forthcoming book, Twist of Faith, reveals the religious and marital challenges she’s faced in her life. --PHOTOGRAPHED BY KATHERINE FREY FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

CRIKEY! The story was just too horrendous to be true.

I was surfing the Internet last Sunday, just reading blogs and news stories and came across a piece on Auntie Anne, the woman behind those yummy cinnamon sugar pretzels. (Say it with me, people...mmmm!)

First of all, I didn’t even know that Auntie Anne was actually a real person (real name: Anne Beiler) until I read the piece on Jezebel.com—don’t even ask me how I got to that site!— and The Washington Post. All I knew was the company made good pretzels. Those treats are always a good pick me-upper for those long days when you absolutely don’t have any time to relax and sit down for a nice long hot meal in a restaurant. Auntie Anne’s pretzels are hot, fast and filling. Gee, I could be their spokesperson!

Second, did anyone know that Auntie Anne was Amish? Yup, she was a Mennonite, and grew up in a farm in—get this—a town called Gap, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where she put on a tidy bonnet, wore dresses that covered all extremities, and cooked for the family the way most Amish women still do today. Her folks, though, were more liberal and enjoyed electricity, and drove a car, instead of the usual horse-drawn buggy.

She met her future husband, Jonas, at a youth group, married him when she was 19 (he, 21), and started a family. But tragedy struck soon after. Their daughter Angela was run over by a farm tractor Auntie Anne’s sister was driving. It plunged the couple in the pit of dark emptiness and despair and didn’t talk about it for seven years. Each thought the other was doing just fine as they quietly let their own depression eat them up.

Feeling suicidal, she had turned to their pastor for help. Then she and Jonas went to a marriage counselor, and soon after the couple recovered enough to help other Amish couples deal with family and relationship issues. One must underscore the fact that discussing relationships and “getting in touch” with one’s feelings are not part of the cultural upbringing of this religious group. Most Amish folk are brought up to just bear whatever burden they believe has been put on their shoulders.

Unknown to her husband, Auntie Anne had fallen under the wiles of their pastor. “...he seduced me,” she told the Post in an interview to publicize her forthcoming book Twist of Faith. “I was a grieving 26-year-old mother who had just lost her child, with no reason to believe I couldn’t trust a pastor, and I felt like I had lost my husband, too, because we couldn’t connect anymore. That first day as I left his office, he told me, ‘Jonas cannot meet your needs, but I know I can.’” What a bastard!

Auntie Anne finally confessed about the pastor to her husband when allegations of sexual misconduct and corruption rocked their pastor’s church. She, as well as her sisters, had been carrying on with the pastor separately for six years. The Post story doesn’t mention who this minister was but if you remember the 1980s when televangelism was booming, these guys were all over the place. They could bring whole congregations to their feet, delirious with charged emotions just by the way they preached. (Yes, I will google him later.)

What eventually saved her—and her marriage—was her husband’s strength and belief in her. According to Auntie Anne, he loved her enough to allow a separation if she wanted to, and to let the kids go with her if she so wanted. “He thought I was a good enough mom to take the kids with me,” she tells the Post. Eventually, the minister was dismissed after the church’s administration investigated the couple’s complaint against him. As it turns out, even one of Auntie Anne’s daughters had been molested by the same man of cloth when she was a pre-teen. Ugh!

Amid all that, Auntie Anne built her pretzel empire. She virtually had no capital and a mere ninth-grade education, yet she was confident enough to join those farmers’ fairs typical in their region. A botched delivery of ingredients prompted Jonas to add an ingredient which helped create the awesome pretzel recipe still used today. Now there is an Auntie Anne’s in virtually all corners of the globe catering even to local palate of its customers (adobo pretzel anyone?). While she eventually sold the pretzel company to her cousin, Auntie Anne’s story about how she created the business is such an inspiration and can help push the imagination and creativity of our would-be entrepreneurs.

But the real story, I suppose, is that despite all the tribulations she and her husband went through, they are still together to this day, now celebrating 39 years of marriage. “Anne and I never broke up,” he tells the Post with obvious pride. “I tell couples, ‘Look, staying together is much bigger than you think.’ I’m going to keep doing the right thing whether I feel like it or not. I felt like walking out on my marriage many times. I’ve thought about affairs. I’ve thought about suicide.”

And, of course, “it was never about the pretzels,” adds Auntie Anne.

The Beilers’ story as a couple is riveting as it is a testament to the virtue of honesty and the power of forgiveness. Many spouses today have difficulty in admitting to one’s adultery—even when already caught—afraid to rock an already unsteady boat their marriage is riding on. But the couple counsels that not only is forgiveness from the aggrieved spouse needed, but the one who cheated must also learn to forgive himself/herself as well.

Their story is also about how anyone can rise and recover from the large curveballs thrown at them by this thing called life. It’s true what they say, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” I can’t wait to read Auntie Anne’s book.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. Photos from BusinessMirror and Auntie Anne's UK franchise site.)

January 10, 2008

Ok I'm awake now! But WTF?!?!

YEAH, yeah, I've been mostly dozing through the holidays and have been lazy to blog these past couple of weeks. Blame it on the unhealthy diet of pork, beef and a whole lot of carbo-protein dishes that have not only clogged my arteries but has turned my brain matter into swill.

Besides the weather has been so balmy lately, it just made better sense to keep staying in bed save for the token once-a-week visits to the gym to justify my monthly credit card bill to which my gym dues are charged.

What finally woke me up today was a nice catty and entertaining chat with my forever favorite economist – yeah, one of those who taught the presidentita and is now ashamed of it. I had to interview him for a piece I'm doing for a publication abroad on the impact of a Democrat win on the U.S. dollar and the economy.

In between the usual academe-speak of solving the U.S. budget deficit and our own possible bets for the 2010, there was much gossip traded about the usual goings on in the government. According to favorite economist, the word that has been going around since last December was that Malacañang now has its eye on a new director-general for the NEDA. At this point this is probably old news already, but this was the first time I've heard of it. It downright shocked me into consciousness like a defribillator. It's none other than Mr. ex-Senator walang baba, Mr. Ate Vi himself, Ralph Recto! And I'm like, WTF?!?!?!

(Mr. and Ms. Vilma Santos. In fairview, maganda ang lolah ko. Photo from celebrity.com)

Is this another cruel joke being perpetuated on us, the innocent poor citizens of this godforsaken country, by the freakish resident in Malacañang?! I AM NOT AMUSED! But favorite economist says Mr. E-VAT has actually been "feeling economist" ever since he chaired the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee. At one agency's budget deliberation, the story goes, Sen. Mr. Vilma Santos tells the agency's heads, "Let's not talk about your budget because it's very small. Let's talk about development issues." Eff! and double eff! Ano ba itoh?

Of course, for the present dispensation in the Palace by the smelly river, it makes sense to have another clueless but compliant dolt running NEDA, like runny Romy Neri and his ilk. (Hey Romy, how true is it that you didn't show up at your Ateneo batch's high school reunion last December huh?) NEDA has lost any semblance of credibility in being able to mitigate the various "business interests" being favored by the bribe-able/bribed heads of the different government agencies. NEDA has lost its ability to check-and-balance questionable projects that are being pushed by the unscrupulous members of the presidentita's extended family and friends.

But then I don't see why the presidentita should change Tito "ang bigat ng eyebags ko" Santos, the acting DG at NEDA. He's been just fabulous at letting her have its way anyway. Remember how he refused to hand over to the Senate the minutes of the meeting when the ICC deliberated on the ZTE-NBN project?

Why she should choose Ralphie boy must have something to do with how his wife – the Star for all Seasons – can be/or has been useful to her. I don't think it's a reward for his having authored pushed the E-VAT bill to approval, for which all of us are now suffering from. Or that he supposedly has a Master's Degree in ano daw? Strategic Business Economics from the UA&P. (Check out his 5 Ways to Economic Prosperity...it talks about first, taxing OFWs. Tangah! Nata-tax na sila abroad noh, gusto mo pa i-tax sila dito?)

Perhaps the NEDA appointment is a reward for Ate Vi, governor of Lipa City, Batangas, who has kept her mouth dutifully shut about the reported P500,000 cash gift doled out to the presidentita's supporters at a gathering in Malacañang last October. Who knows, maybe even Ate Vi was the one who asked the little swamp creature to give her husband – who lost in the last elections exactly because of the E-VAT measure — a job? Baka bored na si Mister dahil walang ginagawa, at takot si Misis na baka mapadaan ulit si Mister sa Quezon Blvd.?

Well, Happy frigging New Year to y'all!

January 05, 2008

List 'em down kids!

Something Like Life
Jan. 4, 2008

‘SO what’s your New Year’s resolution?” my ex-classmate H. jokingly inquired. We hadn’t seen each other in a while as she had been working abroad for a time, and I bumped into her—of all places—at the mall just a couple of days before New Year’s Eve. We immediately sat down for cups of coffee to catch up with the latest chismis about our former schoolmates.

Amid the screams and peals of laughter reminiscing over stupid college antics, we had some discussion if we still needed to make New Year’s resolutions and why people no longer made them.

In true skeptic’s fashion, I retorted, “Uso pa ba ’yon [Is it still in fashion]?” I don’t remember making any more New Year’s resolutions after I became an adult, and New Year’s Eve took on another meaning—lots of panic eating, binge drinking and partying on the beach with friends.

H. still believes in the concept—and that people no longer make resolutions out of plain laziness. I think people no longer make them because we’ve all become cynics and our own worst critics. We know we won’t follow through with our New Year’s goals, anyway.

Unfazed with my negativity, and with total seriousness, H. said she wanted to adopt a “more healthy” routine this year. To start exercising and eat more vegetables. She said she was going to go back to the gym and use the exercise machines at least thrice a week, instead of wasting her monthly gym membership fees. (Well, I told her she was an idiot for not using her gym membership, especially since New York gyms charge the most humongous fees! Hellow?!)

Anyway, I said I could use some more gym time myself, as per the latest mounting on the weighing scale showed me the impact on my gorgeous figure of the pints of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, a few shovelfuls of molten chocolate lava cakes, and recent bites of lechon macau and cochinillo.

But I know myself. I’m not quite the person who would stick to some commitment I’ve made (especially under duress and because a friend was just egging me on to come up with a resolution), even though I know I could probably push through with it if I really wanted to.

I’m also quite the contrarian. I’d probably violate my New Year’s resolution just to show myself I could do so, and then challenge myself to renew my commitment. Of course, more often than not, the violation stays and old habits are readopted out of laziness and convenience.

But H. was persuasive. She said a New Year’s resolution wasn’t “some kind of torture” one inflicts on oneself. To commit to goals that we know we can never accomplish and adopt certain behaviors which are beyond our limitations. Most of the time, she said, this is the mistake people make when they make their New Year’s goals, and that’s why they fail so miserably in accomplishing them, and then become disappointed with themselves for failing.

It’s more about changing one bad habit over time and choosing to be a better and improved version of oneself, she stressed. A New Year’s resolution gives us a chance to make ourselves over.

She insisted that the resolution doesn’t even have to be a big one. As most people’s experiences show, the more complicated the commitment you make (e.g. stop smoking completely), the more likely you will break your resolution. It can be as simple as resolving to start one’s day with a prayer, making up your bed before leaving home or, yes, even going to the gym twice a week.

We both theorized that the key to making sure one would stick to his or her New Year’s resolution is to make it as specific as possible and totally measurable. Like instead of resolving to quit smoking, it has to be more exact like cutting down from two packs of cigarettes a day to just a pack a day. (I went cold turkey, too, when I stopped smoking a decade ago, but then I wasn’t really a heavy smoker to begin with. I just think for some people, their bodies need time to adjust to the reduction in nicotine intake before they finally cut it off.)

Okay, so let me humor H. and come up with my list. If I believed in making New Year’s resolutions, these are the things I will resolve to do:

Practice yoga more regularly, like twice a week. Since my latest trip to my doctor showed a slightly elevated diastolic, maybe it’s time I adopt a more regular de-stressing exercise routine.

Set aside a travel fund. With the peso stronger against the dollar these days, traveling abroad has become more affordable. So saving up to be able to go on just one gigantic dream vacation abroad is something I’d want to do. Tuscany, here I come!

Clean out the attic. Throw out all my college stuff. (C’mon, some people even keep their grade-school mementos!)

I should give away clothes, shoes and bags I no longer need. Either use all the geegaws I’ve purchased in my travels abroad, or gift them to somebody.

Organize my stock of photos over the years into albums and boxes.

Get a glaucoma exam. The eye condition runs in my family and I’m at the age where it can start. Better start monitoring it now.

And finally…

Redecorate my bedroom. I’ve been trying to do this for a couple of years already with not much success, primarily because I have no talent whatsoever in interior decorating. Never mind that I have a lot of fabulous finds from the flea markets I frequent, I just cannot organize all of them into an aesthetic and pleasing fashion worthy of my hours of watching Clean House and Extreme Makeover. I need a place that can really be a sanctuary so I can shut myself away from whatever’s happening in the real world. No TV allowed.

In theory, they all sound good, but the hard part, of course, is actually doing them. And thus, we still come to the same question: Do we still need New Year’s resolutions to beat back our bad habits, or give us more impetus to reach a goal that we have been trying to accomplish for years?

It works for H. Perhaps it’s worth a try.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of BusinessMirror. Main photo from BusinessMirror. The rest, the author's)